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Conservatives Seek More Spending Cuts in Debt Limit Strategy

Looking to up the ante on debt limit negotiations, House conservatives will push to enact spending changes included in the House-passed budget in exchange for an increase in the nation’s debt ceiling.

The House Republican Conference will meet Wednesday afternoon to discuss the way forward on debt limit negotiations, and a conservative aide said that instead of making cuts to discretionary spending, members are seeking a structural overhaul.

“We do expect many conservatives to make the point that the debt ceiling needs to be tied to reforms from our House-passed budget that get us on a path to balance in 10 years, especially via mandatory spending that drives our debt,” the aide said.

Rep. John Fleming, R-La., said that, for him and many members of the conservative Republican Study Committee, any deal to raise the debt ceiling would have to be tied to a budget that would balance in 10 years “at a minimum.” The RSC will meet around noon Wednesday before heading to the conference meeting.

The primary overhaul in Budget Chairman Paul D. Ryan’s fiscal 2014 blueprint was the institution of a “premium support” model for Medicare that would be unlikely to gain traction with many Democrats in the Senate and White House.

Still, it is possible that the plan could be brought up as one of many during the two-hour meeting scheduled to begin at 3 p.m. in the Capitol.

Ryan’s budget also included steps to revamp the tax code, and a plan has already been floated to tie the debt limit to an agreement that a tax overhaul be taken up. House leaders are taking a hands-off approach leading up to the meeting, although many members have been cool toward a plan that does not include spending cuts.

“Certainly tax reform could be a part of the conversation, entitlement reform could be a part of the conversation, other spending cuts could be a part of this,” a House GOP leadership aide said.

While Speaker John A. Boehner of Ohio and his leadership team are expected to address the group, it is not likely they will present any ideas. Instead, leadership is expecting to hear a wide array of opinions from the members, reserving the bulk of the time for the rank and file to step forward to address their colleagues.

Set up in something of an “open mic” style, according to one Republican staffer, lawmakers will take turns weighing in on how they think leadership should proceed with negotiations with Democrats on raising the debt limit by the time an extension becomes necessary. That probably will be after Labor Day, according to Treasury Secretary Jacob J. Lew.

Because of the “give and take” nature of Wednesday’s gathering, House GOP aides anticipate it will be more of a listening session and that no decisions on strategy should be expected afterward.

“This is a start to a conversation that is not going to be solved in just one meeting,” the leadership aide said. “Coming away with something tangible that we’re ready to move on, hey, it could happen. But we’re going in to really express what some ideas are but also get the pulse of the conference.”

Unlikely as it may be that a concrete plan evolves as a direct result of the Wednesday meeting, some members are heartened by the fact that they are going to have the chance to speak directly to leadership, and they believe they are actually going to be listened to.

“Remember that, at the beginning of the 113th Congress, our speaker changed his strategy,” Fleming said. “Instead of dealing behind closed doors with the president and getting bad results, we were finally able to convince him that this should be a more organic process involving members directly in the decision.”

Rep. Mo Brooks, R-Ala., meanwhile, said he wasn’t quite sure what to expect on Wednesday.

“I don’t know what leadership’s game plan is,” he said. “I don’t know if they’re there to listen to us, or if they’re there to give a sales pitch to us, or if they’re there to listen to us but resort back to whatever the sales pitch would be. Time will tell.”

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